Channel 4 to broadcast Islamic call to prayer throughout Ramadan
Throughout the month of Ramadan, Channel 4 is turning itself into a muezzin and a nationwide minaret to broadcast the adhān - the Islamic call to prayer - every morning for 30 days. C4’s head of factual programming Ralph Lee said the channel would act as a ‘nationwide tannoy system’ for Britain’s Muslims.
This follows their decision to give a platform to Anjem Choudary to air his obnoxious views, and represents an attempt, Ralph Lee says, to move away from associating Islam with extremism and terrorism. C4 say they simply want to cater for the 2.8 million ordinary, moderate British Muslims who observe Ramadan.
They could, of course, broadcast a service or two from within a mosque, as they might do from a church for Christians at Easter or Christmas. They could make a documentary or two about the origins of Ramadan, as they might do about Lent. They could even 'cater' for millions of Muslims by mocking their religion and lampooning Mohammed, as they habitually seem to do for Christians and the character of Jesus. Do they think the Alternative Christmas Message 'caters' for millions of Christians, or purposely courts controversy by insulting them?
Only the morning call to prayer will be broadcast on television, but all the daily prayers will be played on the C4 website. They will be delivered by musician Hassen Rasool and accompanied by a three-minute video showing him outside various London landmarks, including St Paul’s Cathedral.
They could have chose Regent's Park Mosque; the Islamic Cultural Centre; Finsbury Park Mosque, etc, etc. But no, one of the London landmarks to be juxtaposed with the Islamic call to prayer will be St Paul's Cathedral.
Channel 4 will also include the sunrise and sunset times during its weather reports.
Let us be clear about what is going on here: this is Channel 4 simply facilitating Islamic worship. By sounding the adhān, they are fulfilling the function of a muezzin in a mosque. Ralph Lee says: "The calls to prayer prompt Muslims to carry out quiet moments of worship, but hopefully they’ll also make other viewers sit up and notice that this event is taking place."
The objective is clear: it is proselytism.
Amidst all the media coverage and widespread comment this story is attracting, there has been absolutely no religious analysis at all. And it is only in the religio-political realm that the significance of this decision can be understood.
Firstly, let us dismiss the notion that the call to prayer is somehow the the Islamic equivalent of bell-ringing. Church spires with pealing bells are a British cultural manifestation with a thousand years of history, and the sound is theologically neutral. Indeed, it is merely audible symbolism. But the adhān belongs to quite a different culture: it is an unequivocally insensitive theological declaration with profoundly political implications, and is invasively ‘in-your-face’ and ‘down-your-throat’ (or whatever the audial equivalent be). It includes the words:
Allah u Akbar - Allah is the Greatest
Ash-hadu allā ilāha illallāh - I bear witness that there is no god except Allah
Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan rasūlullāh - I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah
These phrases are repeated three or four times, and the whole call goes on with rather more, but you get the drift.
The fact that it will be declared into national airspace in Arabic rather conceals the theological significance and mitigates the offence against asserted secularity. If it were in English, it would doubtless be considered an affront to many, and the secularists would be taking to the airwaves to denounce the intrusion.
Broadcasting the adhān is a profoundly religio-political act; it is akin to broadcasting the Lord’s Prayer three or five times a day, or proclaiming the inviolable truth of the Trinity and the Lordship of Christ, or intoning John 1:1-5. And yet even these do not have the temporal political significance of ‘Jesus is Lord and the Pope is his Vice-Regent on earth’. Or, if you prefer, ‘Jesus is Lord and Her Majesty the Queen is the only Supreme Governor on earth of the Church in England and the English Crown shall enjoy all honours, dignities, preeminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits, and commodities to the said dignity.’
That wouldn't go down very well in some corners of the Kingdom.
The public declaration of either of these statements – on the status of the Pope or the Queen - would not be politically acceptable, even though both may be deemed to affirm religio-political truths. While the first would have clear constitutional implications, the second would imperil the Queen’s peace and would not therefore be permissible. The adhān is about theological dominance and political supremacy, originating, as it does, from a culture in which one religious system prevails, and none has the right to object.
But Channel 4 must 'cater' for minority voices.
Have they ever sounded the shofar? Should it be heard throughout the land? Should the Shema be declared to the nation? If not, why not?